Houguh?

For Christmas I received a $25 gift card for Barnes and Noble from the Board of Directors at the non-profit I work with. The card had been waiting patiently in my desk to be used when the right book was presented. I have lots of books I’m half way through reading, so I thought it appropriate to not run out with the gift card in haste, but instead wait until it had a purpose. Two weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to buy books for the youth I work with. Entering the store, they conveniently display bargain books with the prettiest covers enticing customers with immediacy. I was enticed. I hadn’t even entered the main store when a book titled “Hygge” had me stalling in the lobby.

Hygge is a word I had been seeing floating round the web, included in article titles that might say something like “5 Ways to Bring Hygge Into Your Life” or “How To Be The Most Hygge Ever.” It was starting to feel like the word epic, but instead of people getting hyped about the most awesome of things, they were getting hyped about the most cozy of things. Generally, the more hype something is, the less interested I am, but I picked up the trendy looking book nonetheless and was sold, or bought.

So last week, or whenever it was, I returned to the store with my personal gift card and purchased 224 pages of hygge hype. Its bargain price (perhaps indicating that the trend came and went in a flurry) means I still have $15 remaining on my gift card, so there could be a whole other blog to come on the next book purchase.

Anyway. Hygge is a Danish word that, from my understanding, is used to refer to moments and feelings of togetherness, comfort, things that please the senses, simple joys, and the absence of time constraints. You can youtube how to pronounce it, that’s what I did but am still unsure. Marie Tourell Soderberg, the author, ends the book with a hygge dictionary that shows all the ways it is partnered with with other words. For example, I’m all about tehygge which is hygge-ing with tea; Cam is all about hyggefiskeri which is going fishing to have a hyggelig time. Soderberg then invited the reader to make their own hygge compounds. With that, I’ll say the book has a very hyggevibe in that its pages are neatly formatted with Instagram style photos and small bite-size text. It’s a good job it was a bargain offer, otherwise it may have been a hyggeripoff due to the minimal literary content. Fortunately, I was content with the content.

 


The things that pleased and aroused me are as follows:

1. The concept of hygge parallels with the whole concept of this blog – to adorn life’s ordinary moments. Danish folk seem to be all about enjoying, and recognizing – which is why they have a word for it – the loveliness in a cup of tea by the fire, the delight in a long chatty dinner with friends, the comfort in family and cultural traditions. That there is a whole nation of people who have given language to a state of being and way of life that I seek to honor, is totally splendid.

2. Unexpected guests. Soderberg and the many ordinary Danes she interviews mention the little things they do to invite hygge when they have unexpected guests. I don’t know the last time I had an unexpected guest. Maybe in my teenage years living in England when a friend showed up to see if I was home, because neither of us had credit on our phones – if that counts. If it does count, I don’t know that we had a particularly hyggelig time with pancakes and meaningful conversation, but there was likely an air of comfort, ease, togetherness, and perhaps ganja.

Cam and I have been especially community minded since wwoofing. We stayed at a farm for three weeks on Vancouver Island with hosts who made a point of having communal lunch and dinners. This was a hyggelig time for sure. It has all the staples mentioned in the book I read, which is my one and only source for defining hygge. Lunch was on a bit of a time crunch but we were so hungry from working in the field that when it was time to eat our minds and mouths were so fixated on the fantastic array of food items we were less concerned with time and more involved in the experience of feasting. Dinners were much slower, more casual, and full of vibrant conversation. Apparently politics are not hyggelig, but we often got political at Ironwood farm.

Since moving to Virginia and cohabiting with my parents, we have revived the communal dining tradition. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners bring us together frequently but don’t always have the hyggevibe. I think as the traditions build though, the hygge will build – if that’s how it works, I don’t know.

What I want to build are the chances of getting an unexpected guest at the door. Why are we not doing this? It’s even frowned upon by some folks in the US. Arrangements need to be made, heads up need to be given, appearances need to be kept up. Bollocks to all that. I want unexpected guests I can make tea for and play cards with. Those are my #goals.

3. The more I read about hygge the more it seemed to me that the feelings of joy and presence attained when those dear old Danes are having a hygge time is due to the absence of time constraints. To really enjoy the moment, you need to be in the moment, and not worried about the clock. This is hard for me. I’m not an especially anxious person, fretting about the future. Nor do I feel depressed, dwelling on the past. One of my (many) struggles is the incessant imagining, planning, analyzing, and problem solving that my brain is embroiled in. Another struggle I have is not clock watching. I have a hard time being immersed in the moment, no matter how lovely it is, because I know it’s going to end. Kind of bleak really. I suppose it is somewhat anxiety related, but without the fear or physical symptoms I hear often come with it.

Hygge is about going with the flow, I’ve surmised. I’ve always thought of myself as that kind of a person but as work becomes more of a responsibility, one that I care about and am invested in, it’s not always easy to let time pass on by without that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I should be “doing” more. So the book was a good reminder to keep balance in mind as I move forward in this world. I can relish in the present, delight in life’s little comforts, and do the things on the ever refreshing to-do list. I can have my cake and eat it too – but the cake will be much more hyggelig if I have it with family, friends, or even unexpected guests!

 

Sodeberg included in her book special hygge traditions and activities of her own, and of other Danes. Here are some of mine:

  • Traveling. Throwing agendas and to-do lists out the window and just rolling around like the tumble weed I saw driving to New Mexico on my very first road trip
  • Tea and cards with family. Making the same old jokes and drinking the same old tea.
  • Meals with Cam. When we lived together in Denver we would delight in the days we were able to eat three meals at the table together. These are times to talk about every little and big thing, and avoid doing the dishes for as long as possible
  • Baking. My grandmother taught me to bake in England. We used a balance scale with what I think were brass weights, and she taught me all her tricks of the trade. I don’t remember any of these tricks, and am learning my own as baking becomes more of a hobby, but I do remember that classy old scale.

 


As is done in the book, I’ll share a hyggebaking recipe with you.

English Scones
Scone:
2 cups of flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter
¼ cup whipping cream
¼ cup milk
1 egg

Toppings:
Jam – strawberry is traditional, blackcurrent is a nice alternative, but whatever strikes your fancy
Whipped cream – ideally, the kind you whip by hand, not the kind in a can

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add the butter by slicing it or cutting it into a few chunks and dropping it into the bowl.
Rub the butter in using your fingertips, until it resembles bread crumbs.
Mix the cream, milk, and egg in a separate container, then add to bowl.
Gently incorporate until it forms a dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick.
Cut out circles using a cutter or random glass about 3 inches wide.
With the last scrap of dough, too small to be rolled and cut, form the disc shape in your hands instead – this scone is always my favorite because it’s the unique one of the bunch.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400°

While the scones are baking, pour the remainder of the whipping cream carton into a bowl and mix with an electric whisker (or whatever device you use for that sort of thing)

Scones are best served warm with a cup of tea.
There is debate around how to build the scone. I cut mine in half and on each side I put jam, and then cream on top. Lovely jubbly.

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Today

It was about 7:40am when I woke up and looked at the time this morning, and I thought to myself “Oh golly, I really indulged today.” For the next nineteen minutes I did some social media scrolling and when the little numbers at the top of my screen got in the 7:59 formation I hopped out of bed fulfilling the motive to be up before 8:00.

Soon there after, Cam and I did one of our breakfast dances. This was the one in which we artfully coordinate our separate breakfast choices to be table-ready within the same sixty seconds. His was the usual fried egg accompanied by whichever carb and fruit grabbed his fancy in the moment; mine was the recent favorite – muesli with cinnamon, turmeric, and diluted almond milk. This is a serious upgrade from the Kellogg’s fruit and nut I ate every morning for about 5 years. I’m 28 now so I eat muesli. Cam doesn’t call it muesli, he calls it “oats with an assortment of breakfast ingredients.” At the table we broke our fast by listening to NPR and doing the daily sigh in response to what the “orange idiot” has gone and said now.

Breakfast was followed by my third job: Words with Friends. After cursing my mother for securing yet another triple word score, basking in the delight of winning a few of my games, and strategically trying not to run up the score on granddad, it was time to put my breeches on. Breeches for the yanks, jodhpurs for the Brits, equine attire for anyone still unsure. In the far back of a closet under the stairs I found my riding clothes, and once the stiff boots and half chaps were zipped up I really looked the part. Having not actually ridden for over a year, and having not ridden consistently for at least ten years, I did feel like a bit of a poser. Fortunately, I redeemed myself (to myself, because no one else was paying this any mind) by remembering how to tack a horse, sit the trot on the right diagonal, and identify a correct canter lead. My legs were undeniably sore within the first 5 minutes of trotting, and I will likely be resenting all stairs tomorrow, but it was worth it to get back to doing something I’ve always enjoyed.

Not only was I able to get back in the saddle, but I was able to do so in 60-degree weather in the middle of winter. It would have taken some serious motivational self-talk to get me out there in cold temperatures. Lucky for me, todays weather had me reminiscing about Costa Rica. I would never have anticipated Virginia could remind me of a region lined with golden beaches and filled with rainforests and volcanoes, but I would have never anticipated I would be cohabiting with my parents at 28 eating muesli and listening to NPR either, so there you have it. The familiarity was in the feeling of warm, humid rain. I love it. It’s like being draped in a temperate, damp towel. Cozy, right?

On the drive home from the barn I was thinking how amazing life has become since I stopped standing in my own way. For years I blocked myself from living the kind of life I really wanted, that I was really capable of, and even deserving of. Since I’ve quit being such a diversion to myself I’ve been able to enjoy and appreciate so much more of life, like the amazing omelet I had for lunch. Once I’d washed the horse stank off me, I whipped up an egg pie without the crust and it was superb. If you must know, it consisted of two eggs, a splash of milk, a slice of pepper jack cheese, a cut-up slice of gourmet ham I recently splurged on, and a handful of baby kale. To really knock my own socks off, I paired it with half an avocado and a dollop of cottage cheese. Outstanding.

With that, I was ready for my second job: Barista at Little Green Hive. The shift started with bagging teas, not to be confused with tea bagging. When the boss left I had the typical mini rush to deal with, this time entailing four teenagers who sand bagged (restaurant speak for being weighed down by too many orders at once – which I learned when I did this to some cooks who were not pleased with me for doing so and I since strive not do) me with a mocha, a turtle mocha, an almond milk cappuccino, and a steamer. It is so hard not to judge someone who orders 12oz of steamed milk. After the mini rush I rewarded myself with a half-caff (half espresso half decaf) dirty chai, because too much caffeine makes me anxious, and half a muffin, because too much muffin makes me a heffer. Much to my delight and utter dismay, I was then given a bowl of dessert by the wonderful gal who owns an Asian eatery next door. She is from Cambodia and is always whipping up cultural culinary delights and offering them to her business neighbors, maybe her home neighbors too, I don’t know. Anyway, she gave me a bowl of simmering coconut milk with pumpkin, tapioca and a bunch of other things I couldn’t identify. It was slightly sour and had the potential to trigger a bit of a gag reflex but I pushed pass that feeling and ate about half the bowl, because I consume everything in halves apparently.

Walking from work back to my car it was drizzling but still a fine temperature. I cracked the window slightly and listened to Sia on my way home because I was feeling both emotional and theatrical and her music just seems to cater to that kind of a state of being.

At home I was greeted by the fella, followed by the dogs, then the parents. With little convincing, Cam agreed to go on a walk with me around the neighborhood. The way street lights reflect off wet tarmac has always been something I’ve found beautiful. This time I was transported to Alameda Ave in Denver; at times it seems those lights go on forever and on rare rainy nights the street gleams endlessly.

Back at the house we sat down for neck bone soup and French bread. I acquired the neck bone earlier this week, not before calling Cam and asking if it was an appropriate substitute for ham hocks. Everyone’s satisfaction at dinner was confirmation that the neck bones are indeed a good substitute, if not a superior alternative. For me, dinner is often followed by dessert but it shan’t be today as I already had half a muffin and half a bowl of sweet soup, which equals a whole dessert. So, I think I’ll just go put the kettle on now and call it a night, and a very good day indeed.

Resettling in Roanoke

Late September, I drove 1,500 miles from Denver to Roanoke with my mother in my worn out yet still determined little Cavalier. We started late in the afternoon from Cottonwood Riding Club – the barn my mum worked at for about 12 years, and my first sense of belonging to a community after moving from England to Colorado. It was quite the serendipitous turn of events providing a real sense of closure in my Colorado chapter. Our first pit stop was an hour south east of Cottonwood in the town of Elizabeth where my step dad’s parents live. Apparently I’ve got a knack for this whole closure thing because their house was certainly my first sense of home in the state. After a quick cup of tea, and acquiring two boxes of PG Tips to squeeze in the car, we set our sights on Kansas. In the beautiful, highway-straddling town of Colby we checked into a Quality Inn, inhaled some sandwiches, split a beer, and collapsed on our beds. We slept like we needed it, which means we barely slept at all.

The next morning, shuffling in the dark drizzle, we loaded our few overnight bits back in Cavalier and set our sights as far away from Kansas as possible. Perhaps Kansas tried to help us glide away by offering up a fun hydroplaning opportunity, or perhaps losing control of the vehicle on a long road trip with little sleep is just our luck. Either way, mum demonstrated her constant ability to handle adversity with a calm focus and good laugh thereafter. Well done mum. By lunch time we had finally come out the other end of a storm and stopped for a lunch that consisted of meat, potatoes, and vegetables – a proper dinner, if you will – to appease the mother and her stern beliefs about the superpowers of certain foods. For the next six hours we talked about the book she’s going to write, listened to podcasts featuring charming Irish poets and progressive comedians, played your average alphabet themed road trip games, and admired the car’s performance in its old age.

That night, we stopped at the same motel we had stayed at when I helped her and Steve make the same move across country. I could argue the 12 hours of driving left us without the energy to look for motels, but most accurate is that we are undeniably creatures of habit. When we saw the familiar building with lights shining on us from the side of the highway we were instantly delighted to stick with what we know – particularly knowing how to get there, which was a real challenge for us the first time trying to understand its frontage road access.

Day three was the most exciting because it was the day we would get to Roanoke, but even though we would be driving less hours than day two it felt longer due to the anticipation. It was quite emotional. Come 5pm we had made it to the local grocery store and were getting some assortment of dinner items that involved “good” bread and cheese. This due to another of mum’s entrenched beliefs about what one ought to eat after three days of driving; I’m confident she could justify a food pairing for any possible situation life might throw at you.

The following week and a half I was without my “other half,” though I wouldn’t actually call him that because I try to be intentional with my words and believe that we are all whole individuals who shouldn’t imply we need someone else to make us feel complete. Nonetheless, he certainly enriches my life. That aside, I spent this time finishing the basement Cam and I now live in, securing two jobs, becoming a regular at all the thrift stores in search of furniture, and playing a lot of cards with mum. Thankfully, by the time Cam arrived I had managed to make the basement look like some kind of a home, and then had to do it all over again after unpacking his Jeep and trailer.

Our basement domain is now a cozy sanctuary that opens into Cam’s budding farming business. Walls are adorned with paintings by friends and family, photographs from the Canada Sabbatical, and elaborate calendars to organize our respective projects. Sharing a living space with my parents and my partner has been interesting to say the least, and will continue to be so in ways I’m yet to learn. There are the obvious challenges, like how to strategically hide our ice cream so Steve doesn’t succumb to temptation, and more obscure ones, like how mum can explain to Cam her quirks around strictly using the hand towel for hand drying and the tea towel for dish drying. Overall, I’m amazed each day at all the little ways this multi-generational cohabitation is fun and rewarding.

Mum and I motivate one another to get our bake on – especially after indulging in an afternoon cuppa while we watch The Great British Baking Show. I’ve now pummeled dough three Sundays in a row and (if the Pan De Muertos currently in the oven turns out alright) have actually created multiple edible configurations that resemble bread. It seems Cam has sparked a fuse in Steve to make moves on a part-time home business initiative that is now materializing in the garage. Perhaps it’s somewhat lame to be eating left overs amid dinner table discussions with the folks on Halloween weekend, instead of dressing up and socializing with peers, but until Cam or I actually make a friend out here I’m just appreciating the slower pace of life this habitat is allowing for.

Commuting to work in Denver could easily mean 30 minutes of examining brake lights, throwing my hands up in angry gestures, and crisscrossing through the city grid to get to a job 5 miles away. My commute now is 20 miles and a consistent 27 minutes. Instead of break lights I examine the way the light breaks through the trees at different times of day, and my hands stay rested on the wheel while I cruise along a winding state highway through rolling hills. Having grown up a country girl I feel a sense of familiarity in this new environment. I’m still learning how to calm the anxiety that crept up on me my last year in Denver. Starting a new job comes with some stress, and I naturally acquired two sources of income, but I’m in a much different space now – mentally and physically. When I wake to see the mist hugging the belly of Roanoke mountain, and in the afternoon stroll through market stalls, then fall asleep with a belly full of home cooked food, I’m reminded not just of where I came from, but how I want to be – aware of the beauty that surrounds me, a part of a community, and (if I can remain so fortunate) especially well fed.

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The drive to Roanoke

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October Beans from the market

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Hiking through Explore Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

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My first go at bread making – honey oat loaves

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Cycling along side Roanoke River

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Picking up some spuds at the farmers market

Mile High Goodbye

Well Colorado has been home for just about as long as the UK was, and tomorrow I am moving to Virginia to start a new chapter.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, replaying the horrible events that led me to move here for a second time. From that day on I watched from afar as my dad, still in England with all three kids living State side, struggled to dodge societal cracks and stay afloat in a sea of few supports. Meanwhile, I bloomed – slowly but surely in this dry and sunshiney state.

The first time I moved to Colorado I was 12 and the first of my siblings to cross the pond. My mum and step dad were living in an apartment in Littleton that to me (coming from decrepit barns my dad had renovated and a row home heated by a coal fire) looked like something from the MTV show Cribs. The two bathrooms and walk-in closets were awesome enough without the luxury of a community pool and hot tub. Talk about the American dream.

Middle school was a nightmare. On my first day I got on the yellow school bus with my mum and brother (visiting at the time) waving me goodbye. When school let out that day I walked outside mortified to see 20 identical yellow school buses without a clue which was mine. Fortunately I recognized a kid and hopped on L2 or whichever damned bus it was. I made it through eighth grade having my locker neighbor open my locker every day for three months until I figured it out, and wearing mostly hoodies due to my pubescent sweating problem that, I’ll have you know, is only exacerbated by more layers.

The summers before and after eighth grade I helped out at the horse barn my mum worked at, assisting with pony camps and riding difficult horses – like Blondie who I would canter around the polo arena for an hour so she could let off steam and hopefully not buck off the little novice riders she often sent hurling to the ground.

High school was an even worse nightmare. My freshman class had more people than my entire secondary school back in England. I didn’t understand the system, and didn’t really want to either. Over Thanksgiving I went to visit my dad and brother in England (my sister had made her move across the pond that summer), told my dad I wanted to stay, and much to my mothers understandable dismay, he let me.

The following two years were spent building an incredible group of friends, who filled the gaps left from a disjointed family. Joints were plentiful during that time however, except we called them spliffs. I smoked a lot of weed, drank a lot of vodka, ditched a lot of classes, barely got my GSCEs, started taking ecstasy at free parties (the rural British equivalent to a rave), and woke one night to the sound of yelling. At that point my brother had made his journey across the pond so it was just me and my dad living in that coal fired house. I’ve written about that night in another blog so will spare myself the details, but at age 16 I watched my dad threatened and humiliated in a way no child should ever see at any age. The next morning he said we were moving. Two weeks later I had a flight booked from Heathrow to Denver.

I returned to Littleton, this time to the Foresthill house that would stage years of memories, with a rage and reluctance only capable of a teenager. My ever wise and trying mum with her magic cups of tea, sat me down one day and reasoned with me to start over, to make the most of my situation, to give this place a chance.

Twelve years later, at the ripe old age of 28, I’m sitting in my pjs in the bunkbed room I’ve been living in for the past two months and can say I’ve truly made it. In all seriousness though, I’m blown away by all I’ve experienced and accomplished living under these blue skies, a mile above the oceans I played in as a child.

I graduated from that big scary high school, and nine years later I graduated from an even bigger and scarier school called Metro State University. I’ve made even more incredible friends, and become part of an amazing step family who have helped fill any remaining gaps. My two best friends from England have both come to visit, one of whom I almost killed hiking at altitude. My grandparents have visited twice, and my dad once came for a whole month – every day looking up at the blue sky with awe and appreciation.

Within this [no longer] hidden gem of a state I’ve hiked my butt off in the majestic Rocky Mountains, danced my heart out at the temple that is Red Rocks, and found a sense of belonging in a community I could have never dreamed of. Two days ago I went to visit the non-profit I volunteered and worked at for about 5 years. The kids welcomed me with beaming smiles and open arms – and if that doesn’t heal a heart I don’t know what does. As I sat and talked with one of the mothers I’ve become friends with I was reminded that anything is possible. On my first day working as a group leader for the after school program, a girl new to the program got upset and left the school premises. I followed her panicking and called her mum to let her know what was happening and that I was at a loss for what to do. My supervisor later told me I should have called her first. Whoops. The mum was mad, rightly so, and questioned my ability to be responsible for her child. Four years later I’m hugging the girl and her mum goodbye as I get ready for my move.

Two and a half years ago I met a Colorado native who taught me how to fish, how to maintain healthy communication in a romantic relationship, and shows me the depths of love every day. In return I’ve taught him how to make a real cup of tea, how to see each situation with a lens of empathy and humanity, and shown him what I know about traveling. To his family, please forgive me for snatching him from a state everyone wants to come to and no one wants to leave. To everyone we’ve met and loved and laughed with along the way, please come visit us as we give Virginia a chance, and learn what else can be.

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Photo taken on Guanella Pass, Colorado, 2014

Dwelling, hustling, and loving

I’ve been wanting to write a blog since the return from Canada and have been having a struggle seizing inspiration. It’s easy when you’re traveling; everything is new and different, exciting the senses, and it feels natural to want to share it with others who are unfamiliar. Back home, familiarity can leave you taking life for granted. That’s not what I want. The purpose of this blog is for me to adorn those ordinary moments we may forget to appreciate. So now I’ll make an effort to light up some of those moments in the last few weeks.

We moved in with a friend as a temporary lodging solution to our two month stay in the Denver area before the move to Roanoke. When initially looking for potential accommodation, we expected it to be a breeze – who doesn’t want to share a bit of space with a couple nice folks for some bonus money? Turns out, it’s not that simple. It occurred to me that people like their space, they value it, they take pride in it, seek refuge in it. Just because people have the physical space to allow for more bodies to dwell there, doesn’t mean they want to share dish duty, or consider the TV volume, or feel obliged to converse first thing in the morning while in the midst of the breakfast routine. It has me ruminating further on our dwelling habits and housing structures, and what do I seek in accommodation? But that’s another subject all together.

Shauna enthusiastically let us bunk with her, literally. In her spare room Cam and I sleep on the bottom level, full sized mattress of a bunk bed. It’s not what conventional society expects of a couple in their third year of relationship together, and I’m content not living up to the convention. We’ve all had our challenges adapting to roommate life – Shauna having her refuge subject to scrutiny (though we never would), Cam spending nights in someone else’s home, cooking in someone else’s kitchen, without me, and myself striving to make it work for everyone. But adaptation is what this earth is made of, so I’m not worried, and I know when we look back on these two months we will smile and laugh at it all. I’m already laughing every time Cam and I bang our heads on the bunk bed clamoring in and out of it. Sometimes we all watch Big Brother together, and on Sunday’s Shauna texts us updates of what’s happening in the Big Brother house, and who won Head of Household. One time Tical (the Wu-Tang Mouse Dog) ate some of Cam’s beef jerky while we were loading up the Jeep for a weekend trip; he called her a little B and we ate what was left of the jerky in the somewhat slobbery bag because that stuff is expensive! I’d rather a messy life with beautiful people, than a tidy life without.

Upon the return from Canada, I soaked up four more days of leisure before being thrust back in to server life. It’s a life so hard to escape and I’ve resolved to make the most of it for now – which means indulgent sleep and lazy mornings, since I mostly work nights. I gave the morning shifts a try, one day being at work at 5:30am and the next day 6:00am. Money has never been a big motivator for me when it comes to work, which seems paradoxical but I’ll happily work more hours for less money doing what I like, than less hours for more money doing work that sucks my soul. Serving is no exception. Breakfast shifts are the money maker, but 4:00am is not a time when I want to leave the comfort of the bunk bed. So I work nights, much to Cam’s dismay, and it’s not too shabby. There have been slow nights that are great for shooting the shit with coworkers I’m going to miss, there have been busy nights when I’m the only server and feel like an Olympian multi-tasking power walker, and one semi slow night when I fucked up every table to make up for my awesome track record of not fucking things up. Such is the life of a server.

Outside of work, when I’m not enjoying lazy mornings, or sometimes simultaneously, I’m either crossing things off the list for the big move, or I’m soaking up as much time with pals as possible. It’s only really struck me in the last couple days how I might be quite sad saying goodbye to so many incredible people. I think I live for two things – working badly paid jobs with youth, and my relationships with others. The former I can no doubt find in Virginia, the latter I can find too, but none the same. Last night I text a friend at 11pm, she invited me over, we drank wine, painted face masks on each other, and chattered for hours. Goodbyes will be hard, but I have experience. I know what it’s like to look at someone through foggy eyes and know I may never see them again. I know what it’s like to feel distance, but not disconnect. I refuse to believe that connections break, maybe cell phone service or wifi connections, but not those between people. So even though there will be a gap in proximity, there will be no gap in our connection to one another, and if we do want to ease the distance thankfully we have Snapchat.

IMG_1535Enjoying a cuppa at the local tea spot – In Tea, Littleton

Life After the Sabbatical

This blog was written by myself and Cam, aka Team Clam.

The timing was perfect for us to go on an extended trip. Chloe just graduated in December, and her school year job ended in June. Our lease was up, and Cam marked five years at his grown up job at the end of May. We had dabbled with the idea of WWOOFing for a while, considering far-away lands like South Africa and Costa Rica. By Christmas time we had settled on British Columbia, partly because we could drive and camp in National Forests along the way. We also vibed with the idea of getting significant ocean time and the Rocky Mountains in the same swing.

We wanted to WWOOF for several and separate reasons. Chloe was keen on the concept of traveling internationally and long term for cheap. She was also excited to take a break from urban life and get her hands in the dirt on the regular. Cam’s motives dug deeper, as he sought training in specific organic techniques and principles. He wanted to learn about the details of how small farms make money. He needed to explore whether agriculture is truly what he wants his profession to be moving forward – the answer to that question is yes; please read on…

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Vancouver Island, BC
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Vancouver Island, BC

Every trip or vacation comes with its own set of expectations, and usually those expectations are upset by reality. Our planning was meticulous (mostly because Cam is in love with certainty), and it didn’t take long before we had to make some decisions that weren’t accounted for on the calendar. But it seems like our realities moved us in a positive direction more often than not. On day one we found that Colorado Road 318 is indeed not a highway, but a bumpy, dusty gravel path that becomes even more rickety when it crosses the border into Utah. On day four we were chased from our camp in the shadow of Mt. Hood by torrential rain and took shelter in the Portland Hyatt (thanks to Chloe’s discount). Because of the logistics of living on an island for three weeks, we had to give up hopes to visit an outdoor school were really jazzed about, and we had to prioritize weekend trips that meant a visit to Victoria wouldn’t pan out. We encountered mighty swarms of massive mosquitos and frustratingly unclear expectations from hosts. At that point, Cam had to face his “never quit” mentality head-on.

We did get what we expected when it came to wildlife. Bald eagles are like the robins of Vancouver Island. We had memorable encounters with bison, mountain goats, and seals. Chloe saw her first bear from the safety of the car. And when it comes to people, our assumptions were exceeded. Every one of our farm hosts (six in total) taught us lessons that we’ll carry with us into the next chapter. Even more impactful was the effect of living for weeks with great people who are passionate about doing good on a daily basis. We were inspired by their strength and work ethic, and we were nurtured by their cooking and parent-like guidance. Our interactions with fellow WWOOF volunteers were educative as well. Sharing stories and knowledge with people from different cultures was (and always is) enlightening. We taught each other card games, watched subtitled movies together, and tried to learn balance on the slack line. We also settled, once and for all, that the Swiss are dominant in badminton over the Americans (though the American team was actually half Brit).

So here we are, back in Colorado after two months of adventure, living out of a Jeep with a leaky roof. We’ve got a plan for what’s next for Team Clam, but it’s admittedly not as detailed as the one we had for the Canada Sabbatical. We’ll be in the Denver area for August and September. We’ll tie up loose ends, replenish our checking accounts, and unload the storage unit for a garage sale on September 3. Please come see us, and get some sweet deals on furniture, clothes, and knick-nacks. We wont be having a going away party (remember we did that before leaving for Canada). But we will be showing our Canada photos at an art walk event on First Friday, September 1; we would love for our friends and family to come join us as we close this Denver chapter in our lives.

Our next pages will be written in and around Roanoke, Virginia. Chloe’s parents moved there recently and they have made an offer that makes Cam’s dream of farming immediately attainable. In short, he will start an urban farming business that grows greens, fruits, and veggies on leased and borrowed land, and sells to farmer’s markets, CSAs, and local restaurants. Chloe will continue working with youth and seek experience in managing a small business. Long term her goals are also entrepreneurial, likely in the non-profit, youth empowerment area she loves so much. We’re hoping that venture also includes a for-profit component that incorporates her love for tea and baking.

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Nelson, BC
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Yoho National Park, BC

Before we took the sabbatical, we know it would impact us in some way. We felt restless and burned out, and we hoped the trip would bring us some settled relief. We had no idea what would come next, which brought some feelings of discomfort. But we’ve talked openly about our values and dreams going forward, and it’s led us to a plan that has us excited for the future. Having a partner who loves with an open mind and is committed to turning dreams into reality with each other in enabling in an incredible way. Not having much long-term relationship experience, this is a new propulsion for both of us.

So we encourage everyone reading to travel, yes. But more importantly to travel, and to live with intention, purpose, and inspiration. That’s the most impactful lesson for us from this experience. For now, we also encourage all our front range friends and family to come to the Team Clam garage sale and/or photo show. We already know we’re going to miss this place and all the wonderful people who’ve made it home for so long.

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Slocan Valley, BC

Canada Sabbatical Pt. VI

According to Merriam-Webster, Sabbatical is defined as “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.” and “a break or change from a normal routine.”

Prior to this trip I was working in an environment that revolved around routine – Special Education. For someone whose utter lack of planning and aversion to predictability had become part of their identity, this was certainly an unpredictable job to land oneself in. It was a job that shook me on so many levels – frustrations with the broken education system, the many ways trauma manifests and escalations are triggered; the list goes on. Prior to this trip I broke before I could take a break; I had a panic attack in the classroom and went home on a mental health day.

Fortunately, I was then able to rest. Once we got to our first farm stay I sunk into a new routine, one of gentle structure and modest expectations. There and at a later farm stay I was able to catch up on sleep and breathe life back into myself through all the hobbies that soothe me – writing, yoga, and drinking ample amounts of tea, to name a few.

Miles traveled reached almost 6,000 once we cut the engine on the Jeep one last time. Its tires traversed vast terrains and our feet let us explore even further. Mountains, oceans, rainforests, and lakes reminded us to be humble and mindful of our respective capacities. I wonder how many of us are in a constant state of over-capacity. I know the ocean never is.

Doing research was not on my agenda for the sabbatical, but in retrospect I did do a bit of studying. Like a true lover of people watching, I studied my hosts – in particular two women from two different farms. Admittedly a little creepy, but from a place of genuine curiosity and admiration, I watched the way they moved through the world and the ways in which they contributed to it. From each their own set of qualities and quirks, I learned about appreciating ones heritage, living ones values, nurturing ones body and mind with recipes that cater to the individual, and remaining authentic in climates of uniformity.

With the Canada Sabbatical complete, I can confidently say: fuck the system, pack some bags, quit the job, and go take a break from normal routine – it’s worth it.
Of course, if you need your job quitting might not be a smart move. I don’t have all the answers (barely any) but I do recommend WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and I highly recommend finding ways to carve out time for rest, travel, and research.

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Florencia Bay, Vancouver Island, BC

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Yoho National Park, BC
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Gimli Peak, Selkirks, BC

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Gimli Peak, Selkirks, BC

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Wild Saskatoon Berries: Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Kale: Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Organic Farm in Slocan Valley, BC

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming